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Subject: Narrative Vietnam Mission 1 AAR, w/pics rss

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Steve
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This excellent (negative) review by simpsonps121 motivated me to get my copy of Fields of Fire out again! I photo blogged it with some narrative on Instagram but I felt like since a BGGer’s work inspired me to get the game out, I’d put it up here too. It was a hell of a game and again reminded me why I consider Fields a (flawed) masterpiece. I had not tried the Vietnam scenarios yet, so this was completely new to me and had me doing a lot of thinking about the insanity of who thought these sorts of missions were a good idea that accomplished anything at all. I did learn to love having real working radios and automatic weapons, though, in this mission! All my other play has been in WWII and Korea where you’re best off using wired phones and your squads do not have a ton of firepower. Also, I made some rules mistakes but nothing excessive (I don't think!); where there are screwups in the pictures they are mostly things I cleaned up later in the resolution phase (e.g. wrong VOF, missing a PDF, etc). Without further ado:



Fields of Fire, Vietnam mission 1, turn 1.

Fields of Fire is a lot of things. Complicated, dramatic, infuriating... a real rough diamond.

I've never played the Vietnam scenarios (finished the WWII and Korea Heartbreak Ridge years ago), so I thought I'd give it a shot. The Vietnam scenarios start with the quintessential Fields experience, looking in bewilderment at a section of the rules on something beyond the basics... air assault in this case. Like many things in the game, it's ultimately not that hard but the rules are iffy and it's one more detail to a raft of details.

Anyway, first glance at the Vietnam scenario above is... terrifying? I think this is one of the only wargames that captures the legitimate anxiety of tactical combat. I lucked out with an LZ in a village, so there might be some cover on the initial drop to at least station a few vulnerable assets. I'll talk more about this in future turn photos but FoF does an unparalleled job of making combat in general but especially in Vietnam feel bad. Like, not wrestling with the rules bad, but it doesn't create fist pump,"I outsmarted them" thrill like people value out of ASL or whatever. It generates heroic actions against long odds but not like a positive thrill if you get lucky and play right, just some relief. A friend on There Will Be Games can't play Fields because it is just too stressful and upsetting if you have any ability to make these abstract scenarios real in your head. I get that. And Vietnam feels the worst.



Fields of Fire, Vietnam mission 1, turn 2

As expected, the butchery begins early. Good news: I sent a veteran squad into the jungle north who met nothing. Bad news, a line squad and the priceless veteran first sergeant entered the mangrove swamp, triggering a mortar barrage which killed the sergeant and a step of the squad, leaving a pinned fire team. Similarly, the assault team in the middle of your picture advanced into a rice paddy and found... two hidden strong points, with squads, RPGs, and a machine gun in a trench and bunker which opened up and eliminated the team.

I have no idea what to do in turn 3. Spot and then call in artillery to try to keep the fire down, probably.

This game is just murderous. Now that the rice paddy is empty, the enemy is firing on the helicopters which is a potential disaster of EPIC proportions.



Fields of Fire, Vietnam mission 1, turn 3

Things (temporarily) look up. I won't narrate every turn, but the general idea here is I put down some heavy fire on the top left card containing the squad and RPG in trenches. That means they stopped firing (heads down) after my helicopters took off with only a few bullet holes to show for it. This is an easy to miss but CRITICAL rule---artillery serves to extract tough units out of cover but also to keep them from firing at you while you maneuver. Beyond that, the VC mortar team out of the top of the picture fails to call for fire and a sniper gets revealed and guns down a US scouting assault team in the jungle card.

More broadly, something I *love* about this system is that it can simulate pretty effectively ineffectual exchange of fire. If I took that group in the upper left and set them up on the board 2 cards away from, say, a squad of mine and an attached MG in a trench, with a rice paddy between them, they would fire away at each other for turns and turns with low probability of doing anything but running out of MG ammo. OTOH, the *second* one of us tried to decisively move forward the shit would completely hit the fan even if they successfully infiltrated.

That brings me to a last broader point the system drives home: any real advance on held defenses usually needs artillery. But artillery alone only has a moderate chance of doing hits to dug in enemies (in the open enemies a different story---see next turn). But it a) stops them from firing for a turn while you advance and b) will often at least pin them, making them vulnerable in close combat from a combat perspective (no grenade attack retaliations) and an AI perspective (pinned units on the same card as US units often run away). Here I paralyzed the RPG team.

Anyway, good solid turn. But ominously, our CO only drew 3 commands, so could bring the helis outbound and activate 1st and 2nd platoons. BUT could not afford to launch new flights from base, leaving 1st and 2nd plt units SOL w/no reinforcements. Need to check up on heli rules, they're a tad sketchy.



Fields of Fire, Vietnam mission 1, turn 4

An absolute disaster in the field. The enlisted men will be telling stories about this mangrove swamp (pictured) forever. First, overall disaster is that the commands dried up for my CO HQ, allowing me to embark and send a single helicopter flight and activate *no platoons on the ground.* Miraculously, the 1st platoon HQ managed to call fire down on the card covering the LZ with their own initiative, suppressing them. Then the CO XO sprang into action, dragging the mortar forward observer over to the mangroves with him, failing an infiltration onto the card, then failing a call for fire on the enemy mortar team in the distance, and ultimately dooming them both to their deaths when the enemy mortar observer called in a successful VC mortar mission. Utter chaos, no NCOs left, and very little show for it. LZ still under ineffectual fire from pinned enemy squads. The hope is my veteran 1st platoon squad w/radios will be able to advance on the trenches and rout the pinned squad next turn. But even if that goes well, it still leaves a rampant enemy sniper and that bunker full of VC troops (not pictured)... on turn 5/10 with many cards to go.



Fields of Fire, Vietnam mission 1, turn 5

Not much action, but what little action occurs is pretty dynamic. Plt 1 squad 1 veterans (with radio) advance to the problematic card with the trenches and remaining pinned VC squad and successfully grenade attack them... only for a contact to trigger and a hidden mortar high up on a hill far from the action (pictured) to drop shells on friend and foe alike. Squad 1 is pinned by the 82mm mortars but miraculously not further hurt. Elements of platoon 3 finally land in the quiet LZ, thankfully. With so few CO HQ commands I haven't had time to order the next set of helos loaded, so it will be awhile before the rest of my forces arrive. I don't think I will have enough time to finish the objectives today, the pillbox, trenches, and sniper have me seriously bottled up unless I want to trigger more PCs east and south of the LZ.

A characteristic I had forgotten about the game is that setup and the first turns take a very long time, which primes you to think the game takes *forever* if you predict out. Future turns go much faster, however, as the tactical situation firms up, you reinternalize the rules, your units lose the ability to maneuver, and you resolve potential contacts. So don't play the first couple turns and assume everything will go that slowly.

Fields of Fire, Vietnam mission 1, turn 6



Wild turn where I pushed too hard because the end of the day is coming and I panicked; more on that later. But first: the enemy may retreat when threatened if its AI isn't in a "deliberate" state for the scenario. This scenario is on "delay," so the pinned squad in a trench that has been a thorn in my side bugged out and retreated off map, and my bulletproof 1st plt veterans emerged unscathed from the continued mortar fire. Furthermore, after a lucky spotting from the jungle, the sniper also retreated from the map (pic). Mtr team out of rounds retreats too.




⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
But, as I said, I panicked before all this happened. This game instills a sense of pressure on you, the CO HQ, due to limited time, since you'll get demoted and lose the campaign if you don't complete it in an allowed number of tries (2 here). Instead of finishing off these problem enemy strong points and holding tight again, I rallied a paralyzed unit all the way to an assault team w/3rd platoon HQ and sent it south from the LZ into a canal. Bad mistake. An "A" contact triggered an ambush, 3 units in different cards opened fire and gunned down the assault team (pic above) Way, way worse still, the enemy then acquired new targets including the LZ and the adjacent murder mangrove (other pic above), both packed with units. I am well and truly fucked unless I get some spotting and artillery going. FoF has *excellent* push-pull tactical tension between keeping platoons tight on a card or two so they are manageable and usable wrt commanders giving orders vs. what utter murder it is when you have a lot of units on a card under fire.



Finally, pic here is of the utter relief of triggering contact w/a squad of the *enemy* in the open and opening up on them.

Fields of Fire, Vietnam mission 1, turn 7





In my moment of most need, when vigorous action is required of HQ to unfuck our situation... they fail completely. CO HQ draws one command (pic) and activates only platoon 2. Platoon 2's HQ scrambles as many units off the charnel house mangrove swamp into the only place they can go, given how the LZ is bottled up completely by the bunker to the northwest... which turns out to be a dense jungle prepped by the VC, triggering a booby trap which blows up plt 2 HQ and another hidden sniper who pins the other units (drew contact on only 2 card draws ARGH). Things go from bad to worse for the units still packed into the mangrove and LZ village, with many pinned or flipped to fire teams from unseen enemies firing machine guns. Could have gone worse, good draws. On the LZ, the forward air controller spots an enemy squad and RPG team and calls a truly devastating air strike on their weak cover in an elephant grass field (see other pic), before himself being hit with a stray RPG round in retaliation and fragged.

The crazy thing is that I'll put probably "win" this scenario, I've cleared I believe 10 contact markers, the goal is 12. I just won't have any men left for the next scenario in the campaign. The goal for this mission is (realistically!) stupid, pretty sure this is a search and destroy air assault mission with no real coherent tangible objective. Vietnam, man...





Fields of Fire Vietnam mission 1, turn 8

With only two platoon commanders (1st and 3rd) remaining functional, and the CO HQ still sitting in the helicopter departure zone far away, the turn is quiet beyond continuing to be shot up in the mangrove of death and jungle in the west (where 2nd pltn HQ was turned into a paralyzed LAT by that booby trap). The main action occurs in this picture, where 3rd platoon HQ rallies from being pinned in the LZ, races east, and orders the squad who shot up the exposed VC squad to advance to close combat south. They later grenade the fire teams remaining after the air strike from last turn in general initiative. The operation goes perfectly and this solves a lot of problems; it takes the remaining fire off the LZ and frees those rag tag units to act later and become unpinned. 1st squad 3rd platoon successfully assaults, killing one and paralyzing the other. Flank secure! Of note, US troops take no prisoners in these scenarios so next turn they will commit a war crime and shoot this paralyzed squad which does not fall back during enemy activity. 🤢

As a macro comment, one things that comes to mind about FoF is how unbalanced the time spent in different turns is. The first turns pass very slowly, as all units need to be moved onto the board and put in useful positions. Furthermore, lots of enemy units are entering the board, tons of PC markers triggered, etc. By contrast, by the second half of the scenario, almost universally in offensive scenarios, it will be clear where the flash points are, a lot fewer units will move, and most of your time will be spent in the resolution phase. I'd say turns 8-10 took 1/5 the time if 1-3. Part because I was picking rules back up, part because they are simply shorter. So this is another way of saying I again sympathize with people who run into the rules buzzsaw, play 2 crawling turns, and ask why the hell anyone would play FoF.



Fields of Fire Vietnam mission 1, turn 9

Big events occur that ease my nightmare predicament in the west considerably. Most of them revolve around lucky spotting! In pic 1 1st Platoon HQ unpins itself in a rally and spots the VC squad to the southeast on a rubber plantation (1 card pull!). That means that the troops on the jungle card and pinned troops in the jungle open fire and creating a crossfire. Later, in general initiative, the MG in the jungle succeeds in concentrating fire on the squad's cover as well. The mangrove is still under fire from the MG in south which this has done nothing about, of course... that MG team has been so impervious and done so much damage they literally run out of ammo at the end of this turn and will disappear next turn.

Other pic shows 3rd platoon HQ moving north and giving a spotting order to the MG, which fails, but the squad from 2nd platoon later successfully spots and they open fire. The great news there is that sniper AI retreats when spotted, so they melt away off map later in the turn, removing all fire from the jungle in pic 1.

No big macro notes on this turn, just that because US Vietnam units have a lot of firepower, a lot turns on one card spotting draws of VC units. Often they are in jungle and veterans so are incredibly difficult to spot. US units can often put a real hurt on very quickly once they spot, even without overwhelming artillery and air power. The squad grenade launchers are potentially a pretty big boon.



Fields of Fire, Vietnam mission 1, turn 10

The mission ends quietly (for US troops). Artillery FO is activated and rains fire on the squad in the rubber plantation who were cut apart last turn by fire from the MG in the jungle and mangroves. When fire resolution comes around, that VC group loses LOS (heads down!) and therefore the mangrove finally is out of enemy fire. Note that on turn 8, I "won" the mission by clearing my 12th card. In real life, I would probably have "won" a relief of command. 7 pips of casualties (5 in mangroves, pictured) and 5 LATs.

I actually see Vietnam mission 1 as a scathing critique of this sort of Vietnam operation in real life by the designer. There's no text to support this, but if you have played the other campaigns you can see how *ludicrous* this situation is. Unknown, highly defensible terrain. Strong veteran enemy. No armor support, no rear lines because of air assault, 360 engagement. Poor CO HQ leadership, few activations. Moreover, drop in 2/3 of a platoon at a time at most!!! With a slightly different card pull on turn 2, with the bunker and trenches flipped, my LZ could have been under fire *the entire mission* from heavy MG fire, shooting down and aborting helicopter landings. 2/3 of platoon 1 could have been stranded almost the whole game.

And for what? Objective is clear 12 cards. Take no territory or push any front lines. Except for the elephant grass, I killed almost no enemy, they silently fell back. So even as a short sighted "search and destroy" numbers game it was stupid (7 US to 5 VC casualties). And, presumably, we would extract from this geographical position after the end of the mission and leave it for the enemy, having only pissed off the locals who didn't already hate us even more!

Postscript:

I have been thinking a lot more about the issues this game brings up and what it focuses on, especially as it relates to Vietnam operations specifically... I can think of no greater compliment. Fields really does make me think about tactical wargames, and what I especially love is that it has ZERO interest in gun fondling or equipment peen fondling which is what many, many wargamers favor.

And thanks to the BGG review for motivating me to get this out again and grapple with it!
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Matthew Jones
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Fabulous AAR!

garysax wrote:

And for what? Objective is clear 12 cards. Take no territory or push any front lines. Except for the elephant grass, I killed almost no enemy, they silently fell back. So even as a short sighted "search and destroy" numbers game it was stupid (7 US to 5 VC casualties). And, presumably, we would extract from this geographical position after the end of the mission and leave it for the enemy, having only pissed off the locals who didn't already hate us even more!


This is why this is an excellent wargame. It brings to life the issues that the commanders in the field faced. Now, I'm thinking about a post-/pre-mission morale component: trying to get your men psyched up to go an clear another 12 cards for no reason.

garysax wrote:

Postscript:

I have been thinking a lot more about the issues this game brings up and what it focuses on, especially as it relates to Vietnam operations specifically... I can think of no greater compliment. Fields really does make me think about tactical wargames, and what I especially love is that it has ZERO interest in gun fondling or equipment peen fondling which is what many, many wargamers favor.

And thanks to the BGG review for motivating me to get this out again and grapple with it!


Thank you for saying this. This is what I've been trying to get to on the other thread (unsuccessfully). This is about command and control and will, not who's got a "better" gun or armored vehicle.

Again amazing AAR
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Craig Truesdell
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Thank you for the AAR. I am reading up on Vietnam battles to create scenarios for '65: Squad-Level Combat in the Jungles of Vietnam and enjoyed reading this.

Not sure throwing us gun fondlers under the bus was necessary though...whistle

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Steve
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Sigrdrifa wrote:
Now, I'm thinking about a post-/pre-mission morale component: trying to get your men psyched up to go an clear another 12 cards for no reason.


That is a wild thought. "Hey, I know you guys ran into a tough one in the mangrove out there, but we're going to have you do this 10 more times."

Also, Craig, you technical obsessed folks get plenty of love, more MBTs than Fields of Fires out there.
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Craig Truesdell
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I don't know, tried to get an double-blind umpired PBEM game of MBT going with no luck. PBEM is slow but double blind gaming is a lot of fun.

Sometimes equipment is a big deal, Mujaheddin before and after stinger missiles and Egyptian infantry with Saggers and RPGs in 1973 vs 1967. AK-47 vs the M-16 vs the FN FAL maybe not so much, that depends more on unit training, terrain, and how much ammo they have laying around.

I do need to get a scenario going in Fields of Fire, I liked Patton's Best,Carrier, Tokyo Express, etc. Might be nice if they created a IPAD game assist for it...whistle
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Matthew Jones
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ctcharger wrote:
double blind gaming is a lot of fun.


Now THAT would take the equipment-focused games to a new level, no doubt.

ctcharger wrote:

Sometimes equipment is a big deal, Mujaheddin before and after stinger missiles and Egyptian infantry with Saggers and RPGs in 1973 vs 1967. AK-47 vs the M-16 vs the FN FAL maybe not so much, that depends more on unit training, terrain, and how much ammo they have laying around.


Interesting argument. I like it. I thought about the Tiger II as I was typing my response. Wikipedia's page has that pic of a Tiger II hit multiple times by gunfire with no injuries. And there's a lot of history on the debate that ensued moving from the M-14 to the M-16 and the stopping power of the round.

But I think that the point is that more often than armor penetration or firepower, it is the willpower of the combatant which gives out that provides the end of the conflict.

Keep talking, please.
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As a part-time hardware twonk, I agree with everyone!

I love hardware, but wargames often get caught up in details that the commander, whoever you're supposed to be, has no business caring about.

Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, when discussing his Wing Leader series on the Three Moves Ahead podcast, said something to the effect that generations and classifications of tech absolutely matter. But he also said that differences within a generation didn't matter on a strategic scale as much the quality of the people using the technology and how much of the tech you have.

To me, FoF sits within that philosophy; a HMG is substantially different from an LMG, but exactly which HMG or LMG model doesn't matter as much. I just need to know how many gun crews are out there, how experienced they are, what shape they're in and roughly how much ammo they have left.
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Jeb Adams
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Sigrdrifa wrote:
Fabulous AAR!

...

This is why this is an excellent wargame. It brings to life the issues that the commanders in the field faced. Now, I'm thinking about a post-/pre-mission morale component: trying to get your men psyched up to go an clear another 12 cards for no reason.
Agreed, this was great. I have been getting the little tidbits at TWBG, but this is the whole shebang. I am probably the person he mentions as liking this game but not actually liking to PLAY this game. It really hits too close to home for me. I struggled with the WW2 missions, knowing I was sending some boys to an early grave because someone told me a phone line needed to be 50' longer into some field. This Vietnam scenario sounds like it dials that up even more. The inanity of these small missions, which while perhaps very important in the overall conflict, are infuriating for the soldiers assigned to prosecute them. FIELDS OF FIRE conveys this extremely well.
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Yeah, it was definitely you I was referring to Jeb.

They only finally got the rules straight in 2nd edition, but if you want the true inanity of war from the infantryman perspective it's got to be the patrols in this game. They feel so pointless to a lot of players they think there's something wrong with the rules. Like, nah, routine patrols really are just about pushing lightly on the enemy to make contact and then coming back. It makes tons of strategic sense but it's so frustrating from the man on the ground perspective...
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As for MBT, it appears to be an equipment game when you look at it, when you play it, the turn sequence and command system takes over.

The main reason is that most everything is pretty much toast when attacked except for MBTs attacked from the front and dug in infantry. When artillery and air units attack, it’s just bad all around. Now if you shoot at the front side of a tank, you will be doing the armor penetration thing, otherwise, it’s pretty much given your round will penetrate.

Troop quality is a factor in the game but the setting is NATO vs Soviets, both well trained Western armies with all the toys. NATO has some advantages such as thermal sights but both sides are very evenly matched compared to other settings.



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Matthew Jones
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ctcharger wrote:
As for MBT, it appears to be an equipment game when you look at it, when you play it, the turn sequence and command system takes over.


If you look carefully, you'll find that, for me, MBT and it's WWII iteration, Panzer, are well ensconced mainstays of my collection. So I'm not totally bagging on your position. I do love a good, crunchy, tech-heavy game. Renegade Legion: Centurion – Blood & Steel is another favorite and you don't get tech-geekier than than with slabs of armor ablating off.

I'm just saying that, having just finished Dragons at War by Daniel Bolger, his AARs more resemble the FoF AARs than the MBT AARs. He talks about how his men did, the choices they were making, and whether those were mistakes or not, rather than going on at length about the penetration capabilities of the TOWs or the armor factors of the tanks and tracks they were using.
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Steve Herron
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I have been holding on to my copy so I could try the Vietnam period, hope to do that sometime. Well done!
 
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By all means, bag my position. That’s the fun part of debate and discussion on these forums. If you find yourself on the VITP forums, you will see I have endured worse. I read the AARs for MBT and while one of them does have some discussion on the I-Tow details, it is mostly about positioning, using the various weapon systems, and the rules (pretty complex like Fields of Fire). I did not get the vibe that the AARs were all about equipment. I get mostly I moved here, shot at these guys there, got smoked by these guys, etc. I have not read Dragons (but I will!) but the technical stuff these guys already know and it guides their strategy and tactics. They know that TOW missiles are best positioned hull down with long fields of fire, how far a Dragon missile can shoot, and that you can’t advance infantry in the face of HMGs and grenade launchers unless they are in an APC or used artillery to suppress the bad guys. Engaging tanks with your ATGMs from over 2.5km is good business, less than that, not so good. They know if they get caught in artillery barrage, they are in serious trouble and so they must either keep moving, spread out, take out any FOs they find, counterbattery fire, or dig in and hope for the best. They know their tanks are best suited shooting at people to their front and if they get flanked or find themselves in close combat with infantry, it could end very poorly for them. I look at it as they know all that, know pretty much what the enemy can do, and set up their troops accordingly.

When you play MBT, you do need to read through the stats and see what can be done before a scenario. In general though, my rules of thumb apply MBT>(not MBT front, not dug-in infantry)>toast artillery>(anyone)>toast ATGMs at long range>(other than a few MBTs from the front)>toast air units>(everyone)>toast. So sure, people miss but don’t count on it. The gear influences how you position your guys and where you place them just like in real life. So while their AARs may not mention it, the technical stuff matters, just that they treat it as a given and don’t feel the need to discuss it in an ARR. So I say I placed my MBTs hull down at location A and placed my dug-in infantry on their flanks in the woods to prevent them from being flanked. I have my FO where he can see and some APCs behind the woods so they can grab the infantry and run them back to the next line. They can also be in an ATGM role by being hull down behind the tanks if they have ATGMs. They are well spread out though to prevent large groups of them getting bombed or hit by artillery all at once. The Soviets are in a tough spot in MBT. Ye old tactic of hitting them with smoke and then charging fails miserably against NATO and their thermal sights. Just that one piece of gear changes the Soviet strategy immensely. Same way drones have changed things in numerous ways.

I think if all someone solely focused on the gun/tank data in MBT, they would do poorly if they played someone that understood the command rules, turn sequence, and some basic rules of thumb around what can hurt what.

I also want to try the Vietnam scenario!
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sherron wrote:
I have been holding on to my copy so I could try the Vietnam period, hope to do that sometime. Well done!


It isn't too bad, I put it off for years. Air assault rules are confusing but if you make some reasonable judgments you're ok. That is almost the only sticking point.
 
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garysax wrote:
sherron wrote:
I have been holding on to my copy so I could try the Vietnam period, hope to do that sometime. Well done!


It isn't too bad, I put it off for years. Air assault rules are confusing but if you make some reasonable judgments you're ok. That is almost the only sticking point.


I agree. The rulebook actually does a really good job of explaining air assaults. This page also helps (including the comments at the bottom)

https://sites.google.com/site/fieldsoffirebootcamp/rules-ref...
 
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I was trying to figure out how many COHQ commands we're needed to load and send the helos and whether they needed commands while in and outbound. Never really figured it out, just ruled it to a COHQ command to load and send a group of 4 and then another to unload and send when they arrived in the LZ. Worked fine.
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